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The Power of Influence
by Julie Anderson
My two-year-old mimics me. When he pointedly copies my words or actions, I usually cannot suppress my laughter. Like when I told him to Go to sleep and he turned to my sister lying next to him, shook a little finger at her and said, Go sweep, go sweep! Or when he picked up the remote phone, cradled it on his shoulder, and walked around the house gibbering in toddler-tongue, but gesturing his hands and raising his eyebrows Mommy-style.
I laughed, and moaned, at this one recently: Luke watched me enjoy a swallow from my morning jug of chocolate milk and place the jug on the counter. He reached for the milk, so I gave him the jug. He dramatically savored a giant swig (like Mommy), smacked his lips, and then returned the milk to the counter. Only he couldnt quite reach the counter. The jug tipped backward and a fountain of chocolate milk cascaded through his blonde hair, ran rivers down the back of his neck, and dribbled into his diaper. After one of these copycat occasions, I usually telephone my mom or a friend and relish the moment.
I remember another occasion a few months ago when Luke was quick to mimic my actions. However, the last thing I wanted to do was call and share the experience with anyone. In fact, I looked around to make sure my husband was not watching. I had just finished one of my moments, as I call them. For six years of marriage, Ive challenged my husband with this uncanny trait of remembering every trial, each unfair situation, and any bit of earthly turmoil weve encountered. I can rattle them off on a whim, like a grocery list.
On this particular day, I had launched my moment by reacting despondently to our latest unpleasantry. (Right now I honestly cannot remember the specific occurrence or chain of events which spurred my attitude of despair.) As usual, I then proceeded to remind Lane of various misfortunes throughout our marriage. You know what Im talking about: career struggles, health problems, relationship challenges, high interest rates, a new used car that breaks down immediately. I was building a snowball. I rolled this most recent bout of circumstantial unhappiness with all of the other difficult moments in our lives and, BAM!, I plopped this giant ball on our living room carpet, shaking the floor and rattling the walls. Then, I closed out my moment with tears. It was here that Luke jumped in. He curled his little fingers into his palms, crinkled up his tiny nose, covered his eyes, and made a moaning sound. He even rocked his little diaper-clad body to and fro, ever so slightly. Just like Mommy.
At that second, I knew my moments needed to stop.
After my moments come my guilt, my realization of our countless blessings, and my sincere and tearful apologies and appeals for forgiveness. Lane, a heaven-bound man with a spiritual maturity I aspire to develop, graciously accepts my apologies and reminds me of his own weaknesses.
But, how do I explain my moments to my two-year-old? How will I explain them to any future children I may have? Of course, later in life I will be able to discuss my imperfections with my children and apologize when necessary. And while small children may not always comprehend what is going on around them, I do believe they absorb more than we realize. Obviously, Luke absorbed my actions to the point at which he was able to mimic them.
These moments have taught me how quickly one person can tarnish the disposition of another. For instance, Lane will come home from work with a smile on his face, a spring in his step, and a hug just waiting to be enjoyed. But, I can launch a moment, and by the end of my discourse of dissatisfaction, the spring in Lanes step is suddenly gone.
Analyzing some of my moments has allowed me to notice the contagious nature of negative thoughts and expressions. It seemed my unpleasantness actually cast a gray cloud over the room. But what about the contagious nature of a positive attitude? Indeed, our home is not one of drudgery, and Ive seen how laughter can spread throughout a room. Ive seen how the good mood of one can take the sting off the bad mood of another. Ive tickled the grouchiness out of my son and hugged the frustration out of my husband.
I have now come to grips with my power of influence (a power everyone possesses). In the case of my children, its not only power, but responsibility. These realizations have led me to look inwardly and study my influence on those around me, particularly my family.
I am not overwhelmed with self-disappointment, but I admit to a lack of consistency. When things are going well, Im great. I laugh, tickle, hug, smile, and spread gladness. But when small or large unpleasantries come my way, I am easily shaken and am quick to display my unrest, agitation, or even despair. This makes for a bumpy home life, filled with up-and-down moments that can be and have been challenging.
I want to smooth out these bumps and strive to exert a consistently positive influence on my family. This calls for a consistently positive attitude that will shape me and my reactions to circumstances, rather than allowing circumstances to shape my attitude and behavior.
Of course, I realize I will encounter trials, large and small, that for a time take pleasure out of earthly living. However, as I reflect on the challenges I have already met, I realize I need to cultivate an attitude that will temper my disappointment or sadness with perseverance, faith, and an understanding that I can give God control of my sorrow.
I want my children to remember a Mom who enjoyed life. I would like them to remember a Mom who strived to make each day a pleasant one, who shared her gladness and gratitude in times of joy and her endurance and hope (not despair) in times of trial.
In twenty years, I want my children to look back on their home and say, It was good to be there. I now realize I cannot do this alone. Thankfully, God does not expect me to. But, I will put in my effort to choose gladness by letting God and His grace fill my heart!
Title: "The Power of Influence"
Author: Julie Anderson
Publication Date: May 3, 2003
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